Sliced: A Retrospective
Two weeks after Yaw won the Heinzendorf-Berschel Award for Contemporary Art, I found a cart full of human heads in the alley behind his studio. This, I thought, was not what the jury had in mind when they encouraged him to continue interrogating the limitations of his material.
I’d been working as Yaw’s assistant for nearly six months by then. My art school friends were jealous, constantly seeking information that might explain his greatness, and I told them what I could but everything sounded contrite. He knows exactly what he wants, I’d say. Sometimes he doesn’t leave the studio for days. I didn’t tell them about the Pig Latin, the raw diet, the live traps. I didn’t tell them about the time he placed his hands on my shoulders, looked deep into my eyes with the wonder and fury of a relative estranged by sectarian violence, and said, simply, “Camilla?”
My name’s Leo.
Although I often sensed I was observing another species in Yaw — delicate as a dragonfly, powerful as an antelope — I felt myself expanding his presence, as no idea was too contentious or impossible for this man who could do complex trigonometry with his eyes closed but had indeed made sculptures with his own feces. I cleaned his tools, prepared his workspace, mixed compounds of varying elasticity and opacity and brought them to him quickly, before they hardened. While he worked, often in silence, using only hand gestures and “ore-may” and “aster-fay” to communicate, Yaw served as a kind of mentor to me, just without the mentoring part.
And now there was a cart of heads in the alley, with some rolls of old canvas and packing tape leaning up against it, and I knew immediately it was going to be my problem.
In the studio, I saw right away that Yaw was still on his hunger strike against the tyranny of the social media industrial complex. I found him on the floor behind his desk, using a hand-held Zoom mic to record the sound of his breathing.
Leo, he said, stopping the recorder and sitting up. I need you to find me a proper recording studio. I want an entire wall of speakers for this installation. The recording quality must be excellent.
What about Trish?
Yaw tossed the recorder onto the floor beside him. Trish is a child, he said. I’m through.
I inhaled sharply, preparing to speak. Then I noticed how truly terrible Yaw looked, rubbing his gaunt face in his hands. I’m ordering you a smoothie, I said. I don’t care what you say. I ordered from the app on my phone, then sat, a bit flustered, to respond to his emails.
Dear Mr. Agyapong,
I hope the shipment of alpaca wool has arrived in the desired condition. The alpacas were hand-picked for their agility, aptitude and general demeanour, as per your request. If you have any concerns about the alpacas or the farmers that shaved them, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Dear Mr. Yaw,
My wife and I saw your installation at the Tate Modern last week and I have not been able to put it out of my mind. Your way of weaving the metaphysical with the material is remarkable. Thanks to you, I have turned vegan and begun meditating.
Please don’t stop making art.
Frederick M. Scott
Did you get the heads?
I re-read this last email several times while Yaw got off the floor and walked into the studio. I heard the chainsaw whir to life. He’d been using it to cut beams for his new installation.
I followed. Wood pillars of various lengths shot up from the studio floor, covered in bulbous shapes that looked a bit like noses. The severed beam clattered to the floor. Yaw lifted his eye protection to stare at me.
Nick is wondering if you received the delivery, I said.
He frowned. Tell him I was disappointed in the quality.
The freshness. And also the age.
What’s wrong with the age?
Yaw started the chainsaw back up. It was very out of character, but he shouted over the noise: Get rid of them!
I nodded, ducking back into the office.
I sat at the desk. Instinctively, I touched my neck, noticing how long it actually was. Where does one —? Nevermind. I tried to reply to Nick’s email, but my hands were shaking. I grabbed my jacket and went outside.
Like I told the detectives, I did hesitate. I can’t lie, the heads were beautiful in their way. There were six in total, seven if you include the dog. I could see where Yaw was going with it. There was a beauty to the sadness, the severing, the end of something that once showed so much promise.
It started to rain. My phone pinged: Yaw’s smoothie would arrive any minute. He was going to need the energy. I swiped the message off my screen. Crime Stoppers seemed like such an anticlimactic way to end it all. But I already had the app installed in my phone, from the time Yaw blew up the taxidermy horse in the middle of Central Park.
Nicole Baute grew up in rural Ontario and currently lives in New Delhi, India. She won the 2018 Pinch Literary Prize for Fiction and third in Wigleaf’s Mythic Picnic Prize. Her short stories and essays have been published in Joyland, River Teeth and carte blanche, among others. Nicole teaches creative writing online at Sarah Selecky Writing School.
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